A recent paper in the Government Information Quarterly 29 (2012) by Christopher C. Reddick & Michael Turner is appropriate to the UK debate. The paper is entitled ” Channel choice and public service delivery in Canada: Comparing e-government to traditional service delivery” and it looks at some of the excellent work done in recording citizen satisfaction and other metrics in a range of Canadian jurisdictions. I’m a little confused by the definition of e-government since they state on page 9 “Through a survey of citizens across Canada there was evidence that e-government has really taken hold as the dominant contact channel, with 55% of Canadian residents surveyed used the Web or email to contact government for a service or information, which rivals the phone at 51%”, which is confusing with the inclusion of email, which is little better than quick ‘white mail’. However, it then goes on to state that “the data indicates that citizens actually received the most satisfaction by receiving a service or information in a government office”, which is probably the same in the UK.
Interestingly, it then goes on to state “There appears to be a digital divide in access to e-government in Canada and it is centered on age and gender, but its cause may not be attributable to simply differences in access. The digital divide can be mitigated if there is greater citizen satisfaction with e-government”, which I can’t disagree with, although the divide in gender terms is nominally marginal in the UK. A further conclusion is that “governments should realize that citizens use many contact channels, and often several in a single interaction or transaction with government, with some of them being better suited for certain tasks than others. However, governments should realize that citizens receive less satisfaction with the phone [and that] they must find better ways to integrate contact channels as one method to move e-government forward, ensuring that the information received through use of different channels is consistent and service responses are of equivalent quality. Then, where citizens have multiple choices to contact government, they can use the channel that best suits their needs”.
Once all the channels are being measured for satisfaction and re-tuned as a result, there will be, as stated, “a positive view of all contact channels [which] leads to a positive overall view of public services, so governments will need to continue focusing on service channel improvement to improve overall views of public service – the very model I have been promoting for some years. However, as a warning to some of those pre-occupied with benchmarking services the report concludes “collecting aggregate survey data is limited because of its inability to discern nuances in the data which can better be teased out with more direct methods of observing citizen behavior”, so be warned!